Shelf Life: 15 Food Books of 2015

Popovers_The Homemade Kitchen

Popovers from The Homemade Kitchen

For years, I’ve been threatening to start a podcast. In October, I attended an inspiring weekend hosted by Feet in Two Worlds and promptly went and bought a Zoom H5, a mic and started contacting food writers I admired to come sit in my kitchen and chat. I’m launching the podcast in January, but I decided I couldn’t wait to share the books crafted by some of the lovely folks who I’ve talked to already for the audio show, plus some other I discovered along the way this year. Not all of these titles are new, and there are likely some books new to 2015 that I’ll write about next year. titles are listed in no particular order. Please note that if you buy something from the Amazon links, then I’ll get a small commission as an associate, and I donate all of these earnings to The Culinary Trust.

indexA Life of Spice by Monica Bhide
A collection of published and unpublished works from one of my favorite food writers, including the first chapter of a fascinating forthcoming memoir about the separation of India and Pakistan and her father’s food memories relating to it as a small child. Like me, you’ll fall in love with her unique lyrical style.

The Homemade KitchenThe Homemade Kitchen by Alan Chernila
Alana crafts the lovely blog, Eating From the Ground Up, a return to simple family cooking. I truly enjoyed her first book, The Homemade Pantry in which she offers homemade variations on convenience staples. (Homemade pop tarts, anyone?) She cooks for people with real lives, and offer easy recipes in a comforting way. I made her popovers for our discussion and I’ve made them a couple of times since. Super delicious and easy, a good example of her canon of recipes.

FikaFika by Anna Brones
Although I’m Swedish-American, I wasn’t hip to the concept of “fika,” which essentially boils down to a coffee break with a sweet, a break in the day that’s part of life in that Scandinavian country. We also discussed her other title, The Culinary Cyclist, one close to my heart as I am longtime long-distance cyclist.

Fire and IceFire and Ice by Darra Goldstein
I’m kind of fanatical about Gastronomica, the academic culinary journal Goldstein helped found more than a decade ago. So even though I’ve met her at various food writing conferences, I’d never sat down and talked to her. We discussed her departure from the magazine to get her life back, a notion I understood having been a magazine editor, and how she ended up as a professor of Russian studies who penned a book the cuisine of Scandinavia. A terrific book by a fascinating woman.

Sea anblaine-wetzel-sea-and-smoke-cover.0.0d Smoke by Blaine Wetzel and Joe Ray
Writer Joe Ray spent a year on isolated Lummi Island to capture the work of genius chef Blaine Wetzel. Together they crafted an unusual book which offers a look behind the curtain of a famed restaurant too expensive for most of the population. It’s aimed at serious cooks, gourmands and the kind of people who use Michelin guides to plan their vacations, not for home cooks looking for some weeknight inspiration. I made a bark broth from a Madrona tree for our discussion on the podcast — it’s that kind of book. But the stunning photographer of Charity Burggraaf and the journalistic diligence Ray put into the book elevates what could have been a diner’s souvenir into a keenly observed tribute to a kitchen staff unafraid to get dirty, along with the farmers, fisherman and the unique ecosystem of the foggy, sea-salty coast that surrounds the island.

Kitchen GypsyKitchen Gypsy by Joanne Weir
Oh, who doesn’t love Joanne Weir of PBS show fame? She’s fun and down-to-earth and her book traces a very cool life from her grandfather’s farm to working with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse to opening her own restaurant in the Bay Area The stories and photos show the inside story of how small, important moments can change someone’s life. Joanne inspires by her passion and relentless curiosity when it comes not just food but her zeal for the world around her. She writes with the home cook in mind, making everything in her book accessible for home cooks, including the food-interested 20-something she was once herself. I made her fish and zucchini skewers our podcast chat, and the whole roasted head of cauliflower for Thanksgiving, and I expect this title to have a permanent place on my kitchen shelf.

The Chili CookbookThe Chili Cookbook by Robb Walsh
My grandfather made chili every Saturday afternoon for more than 20 years, so chili has a special place in my heart. Award-winning Texas writer Robb Walsh helped me make Hatch green chili sauce and schooled me on chilies. His book offers great stories and research on the history of chili, the deep debates on beans vs. no beans and loads of great recipes. It’s a great gift for anyone who loves chili, and who doesn’t?

Language of FoodThe Language of Food by Dan Jurasfsky
I’ve long been fascinated by the etymology of words, so I was thrilled to chat with the chair of the linguistics department at Stanford University. In his book, he discusses how phrasing on menus changes by price, the origin of words such as macaroon and macaroni and how they’re related, how the turkey we eat for Thanksgiving connects to the country of the same name. I, for one, will never look at ketchup in quite the same light again.

My Kitchen YearMy Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
I tried to interview Ruth, but she her schedule was packed. Maybe next year? I have met Ruth several times over the years, including shortly after Gourmet closed. In this book, I learned how deeply unsettled and lost Ruth felt by the sudden closure. Like me, when trying to heal an emotional wound, she headed to her kitchen. Like most of Ruth’s recipes, she distills them to their core flavors, such as her chicken diavolo which uses just chili oil, lemons, salt and pepper, a recipe that’s become one of my standards.

Rose water and Orange BlossomsRosewater and Orange Blossoms by Maureen Abood
I’m waiting to get to northern Michigan to interview the wonderful writer Maureen Abood. I knew little about Lebanese cooking before she sent me a copy of this book. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. The photography and the recipes deceptively simple, yet bursting with flavors, like her pistachio-crusted fish. A great introduction to the flavors of that region.

Mastering SaucesMastering Sauces by Susan Voland
Longtime food writer Susan Volland’s encyclopedic take on sauces may surprise even seasoned cooks. She moves well beyond the concept of “master sauces” by widening the definition to include everything from pestos to water enhanced with aromatics and herbs, and offering alternatives to the heavy handed sauces of the French cuisine in which she trained. Worth noting: the “hollandaise” sauce on the cover is actually a vegan version. Some of Volland’s inspiration comes from having been a recipe tester on the Modernist Cuisine series, and her frustration following some of their initial guidelines made her focus even harder on clarity and simplicity in her own recipes. The Thai peanut sauce recipe she sought out from food writer Pranee Halvorsen is a standout.

Delights from the Garden of EdenDelights from the Garden of Eden by Nawal Nasrallah
Originally self published by Bagdad native Niswallah Nasrallah, this heavy textbook-like tome was updated and re-released in 2011 by London-based publisher Equinox. I came across this book in my research for an upcoming book project and I spent a full month pouring over its rich tapestry of history mingled with some 400 recipes about the fascinating, rich history of Iraqi cuisine. Talking to Niswallah made me realize that learning about someone’s cuisine definitely helps make you understand their culture in a way that just reading newspaper stories cannot.

World spice at homeWorld Spice at Home by Amanda Bevill and Julie Kramis Hearne
I love this spice shop nestled below Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. But even though I’ve been shopping there for years, this book truly educated on spices I had yet to try. We so often forget the value of spice and the places where those unique flavors can take us, and the authors do a lovely job of sharing their enthusiasm for their treasures. Bonus: You can also get an accompanying spice collection to go along with it – a great gift.

Near and farNear and Far by Heidi Swanson
I’ve long been a fan of Heidi’s from the very early days of her blog, 101 Cookbooks. This title features vegetarian recipes inspired by her life in San Francisco and travels worldwide. The photography lends a dreamy quality to inspired dishes in which more commonplace ingredients take on a new life, such as oatmeal paired with miso. I have more than 1,000 cookbooks and Heidi is one of those rare writers who you feel let into not only her kitchen, but in the case of this book, the special moments of her travel that impact her food and her heart.

My Paris KitchenMy Paris Kitchen by David Leibovitz
OK, this isn’t really a 2015 book, nor did I interview David (yet!) but it’s among the titles I cooked from the most this year, so I included it on the list. Some of the recipes are classic French (steak frites with mustard sauce) some are wholesome American (chicken pot pie) but all of them make me crazy nostalgic for the time I lived in Paris. David inspires me, both as a writer and as a cook. I was honored to be a finalist with him in the IACP Awards for Literary Food Writing this past year, although neither of us won.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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